Unpacking Criterion’s celebration of Agnès Varda
A founder of the French New Wave who became an international art-house icon, Agnès Varda was a fiercely independent, restlessly curious visionary whose work was at once personal and passionately committed to the world around her. In an abundant career in which she never stopped expanding the notion of what a movie can be, Varda forged a unique cinematic vocabulary that frequently blurs the boundaries between narrative and documentary, and entwines loving portraits of her friends, her family, and her own inner world with a social consciousness that was closely attuned to the 1960s counterculture, the women’s liberation movement, the plight of the poor and socially marginalized, and the ecology of our planet. This comprehensive collection places Varda’s filmography in the context of her parallel work as a photographer and multimedia artist — all of it a testament to the radical vision, boundless imagination, and radiant spirit of a true original for whom every act of creation was a vital expression of her very being.
Criterion have of late, for want of a better word, started to flex. After hundreds of releases that enhance appreciation for individual films, they have escalated their output of packages that celebrate the work of individual artists, such as Ingmar Bergman, Bruce Lee, if you want to count him, Godzilla, and now the recently announced Essential Fellini. This month, they added another mammoth release, one that joyously shares the creative talents of Agnès Varda. Decades of work, directing over 50 features, including the recent and acclaimed Faces Places (2017), and Varda by Agnès (2019) do not fully capture her cultural impact as she worked across different mediums, continents, and social scenes, right up until her passing last year. This new set from Criterion, which aggregates a 39 films in a celebration of her craft and her personality.
The release comes in a hard slipcase, the front and back depicting Varda at the start and end of her vibrant life (see header image). A slip (with removable adhesive) on the back, details the contents of the package. Inside are two parts to pull our, one a binder containing the films, the second is a book, that weaves together images and words to detail the life and works of Varda.
The hard coverslip has some delightful little touches hidden on the inside, cartoon depictions of Varda herself.
The main booklet inside the coverslip folds open to reveal card pages, each holding the various Blu-ray discs. The movies range from features, to documentaries, to shorts, and are sorted into thematically/period related programs:
Agnès Forever — Varda by Agnès (2019), Les 3 boutons (2015)
Early Varda — La Pointe Courte (1955), Ô saisons, ô châteaux (1958), Du côté de la côte (1958)
Around Paris — Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962), Les fiancés du pont Macdonald (1962), L’opéra-mouffe (1958), Les dites cariatides (1984), T’as de beaux escaliers, tu sais (1986)
Rue Daguerre — Daguerréotypes (1975), Le lion volatil (2003)
Married Life — Le bonheur (1965), Les créatures (1966), Elsa la Rose (1966)
In California — Uncle Yanco (1968), Black Panthers (1970), Lions Love (. . . and Lies) (1969), Mur Murs (1981), Documenteur (1981)
Her Body, Herself — One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977), Réponse de femmes (1975), Plaisir d’amour en Iran (1977)
No Shelter — Vagabond (1985), 7 p., cuis., s. de b. . . . (à saisir) (1985)
Jane B. — Jane B. par Agnès V. (1988), Kung-Fu Master! (1988)
Jacques Demy — Jacquot de Nantes (1991), The Young Girls Turn 25 (1993), The World of Jacques Demy (1995)
Simon Cinéma — One Hundred and One Nights (1995)
La glaneuse — The Gleaners and I (2000), The Gleaners and I: Two Years Later (2002)
Visual Artist — Faces Places, codirected with JR (2017), Salut les cubains (1964), Ulysse (1982), Ydessa, les ours et etc. . . . (2004)
Here and There — Agnès de ci de là Varda (2011)
Beaches — The Beaches of Agnès (2008)
Not mentioned here are the extensive extra features, which I hope to highlight in a followup piece.
Accompanying the films is a book, with over 200 pages of notes that partner and expand upon the film programming, primarily through a number of essays contributed by a host of writers. These are interspersed with a selection of images showcasing stills from the films, as well as Varda’s photography and art installation work. The materials used are of good quality, complementing the handsome presentation of the rest of release.
The Bottom Line
This unboxing is just a prelude to the real treat, delving into decades of content stemming from the life and works of Agnès Varda. Time and time again Criterion has celebrated film, and do so again in resplendent fashion for this icon of cinema.
The Complete Films of Agnès Varda is available via Criterion now